Tech Data’s Academy Enlists Challenge Labs to Bolster Microsoft Training and Build Customer Relationships

With a focus on deep technical training, Tech Data’s Academy team offers courses that prepare participants to gain or renew certifications in some of Microsoft’s best-known and in-demand technologies, including Azure, Dynamics, Microsoft 365, Power Platform, SQL Server and Windows. Tech Data’s Academy, the learning arm of Tech Data, serves end users who manage IT environments for their employers as well as resellers who either resell the solution or are contracted to provide skilled IT management services to smaller end users that do not employ in-house IT teams.

To bolster its courses, Tech Data’s Academy uses Challenge Labs, offered by Skillable, which are short, scenario-based, hands-on scored labs that are ideal for cloud technologies. While the labs are used most heavily for Microsoft trainings, Tech Data’s Academy does use them to a lesser extent to supplement trainings focused on other technologies, such as AWS and VMware.

Providing more valuable training

Tech Data’s Academy is a Microsoft Learning Partner globally and provides official authorized courses to students built on Microsoft Official Courseware and delivered by a Microsoft Certified Trainer. For the many courses that require lab environments, Tech Data’s Academy partners with Skillable for those that enhance and supplement the training content. In addition to taking the classes online or in the classroom (post-COVID), a self-paced option is also available.

Tech Data’s Academy began offering trainings for Microsoft technologies in 2017. Two years later, in 2019, Nicola Keskin joined as business development manager, tasked with driving growth across Tech Data’s Academy’s full Microsoft certification portfolio. Keskin is based in Europe, works with teams in approximately 13 countries and believes that the ability to offer labs that include hands-on exercises is a definite competitive advantage in a crowded field.

Simply put, the exercises within each Challenge Lab enable Tech Data’s Academy to offer training that is more valuable. “It’s not very helpful for attendees to passively view a PowerPoint presentation that tells them how Azure works,” she says.

Challenge Labs, provided by Skillable, offer a compelling alternative: High-level guidance and requirements rather than instructions. Each challenge presents a practical scenario to the learner, who is then asked to solve or perform set requirements. “With Challenge Labs, students learn by doing hands-on exercises,” Keskin says. “Instead of looking at a file with instructions, they work in a test environment and set up something real. Being able to offer a Challenge Lab in addition to the standard lab is a great training option that helps our students develop an even better understanding of the technology.”



Tech Data’s Academy, the IT training division for Tech Data, provides official IT certification courses to students around the globe. Tech Data’s Academy offers IT certifications online, in classrooms or via self-paced courses from the IT vendors that are leading the way in next-generation and data center technologies, including Checkpoint, IBM, Juniper, Microsoft, VMware and many more.

Year established



Clearwater, Florida USA

Number of students

More than 6,000 students per year

Number of courses

More than 3,000 courses delivered in 22 countries and a training provider to more than 20 vendors

Use Case

Official lab provider for Microsoft certification classes, “Labs & Learn” – a dedicated and stand-alone product together with Tech Data’s Academy and Challenge Labs 

“It’s not very helpful for attendees to passively view a PowerPoint presentation that tells them how Azure works. With Challenge Labs, students learn by doing hands-on exercises and work in a test environment to set up something real. Being able to offer a Challenge Lab in addition to the standard lab is a great training option that helps our students develop an even better understanding of the technology.”
Nicola Keskin
Business Development Manager | Tech Data’s Academy

The case for Challenge Labs

The purpose of Challenge Labs, which last from 30 to 60 minutes, is to help measure skills and to provide the practical experience needed to pass certification exams or to keep skills current on ever-evolving technologies such as AWS, Microsoft, VMware, cybersecurity, Linux and more. Each scenario presents the user with a scenario and a related problem to solve. As the complexity of a challenge increases, so do the related requirements and tasks.
In guided challenges, which are the foundational level, broad goals and objectives are presented with image and video hints if the student becomes stuck or needs a refresher. At the advanced level, challenges are designed for the user to complete a series of tasks with specific requirements. They contain automatic, Activity-based Assessments that score the users’ work in real time to provide feedback on which tasks have been performed correctly and which items the user may need to work on further. The purpose of expert challenges, the highest level, is to demonstrate mastery of a skill or topic. Upon completion the student is presented with a scored report indicating whether they passed or failed.

Excellent exam preparation

For those with a certification or re-certification exam on the horizon, Challenge Labs have proven themselves an excellent way to prepare. “If someone attends an Azure training with us, their goal is usually to gain a certification,” Keskin says. “And it’s usually not enough to attend a four-day training. That’s where Challenge Labs come in handy—you can keep working and use it to prepare for the exam to reach this certification.”

Keskin reports that Challenge Labs are particularly valuable for students who prefer self-paced learning as well as those who prefer courses that are led by instructors. “We realize that a lot of people prefer to train themselves rather than attend a four-day training,” she says. “Challenge Labs work well for both.”

Regardless of the instructional model, Keskin says the labs are a critical part of preparing for an exam to gain or renew a certification. “Challenge Labs provide access to exercises that will show you if you understand what you were taught,” she says. “The labs use live exercises to prepare participants for exams, and can be done at levels suited to where the learner is—beginning or deep dive.”

Adding value with Challenge Labs

The relationship with Skillable, a Microsoft Authorized Lab Hoster, began prior to Keskin’s arrival. “Skillable was recommended by Microsoft and was the lab provider for our very first classes,” she says. Currently, Tech Data’s Academy leverages Challenge Labs predominantly for its Microsoft trainings, but Keskin says she plans to begin more actively positioning the labs to supplement trainings offered by other vendors, such as AWS and VMware.

For now, she’s taking advantage of the flexibility of Challenge Labs, which can function as a stand-alone subscription or supplement existing content in support of the users’ learning experience, and experimenting with ways to leverage the labs to provide additional value to learners. For example, Tech Data is offering a “take a class, get a free Challenge Lab” promotion, selling annual passes, which make taking a Challenge Lab as simple as going to Tech Data’s Academy website and adding the lab to a shopping cart. “We just started reselling,” she says. “We’re still in the pilot phase with these offerings, but they’re off to a great start.”

In the near future, Keskin plans to leverage the value of Challenge Labs as a means of building and maintaining customer relationships. “I plan to combine Challenge Labs with our standard offering, adding Challenge Lab access for one full year after attending a Tech Data Academy training, as a way of keeping in touch, as a way of adding value to our standard offering,” she says.

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